house-hunting lessons

As I mentioned in a previous post, Allyn and I have been planning to move into a larger space. For the past two years, our one-bedroom apartment has been the perfect cozy little home for our growing lives. But now, it is feeling cramped. We’ve known for a while that when our apartment lease is up this March 1, we want to move. So, aiming to give ourselves plenty of time, we began our house-hunting journey the last weekend of January.

We started out that Saturday full of energy, excitement and optimism. We were going to find Our Perfect Home in Our Perfect Location and we were going to Find it Immediately! Yet, by the end of that first day, we were both feeling a little disappointed. The first house we saw was in a lovely location, but the house itself was pretty run-down. The kitchen was tiny, and we’d have to buy a washer and dryer. The second house we saw was easy to cross off our list: not the best location, and in even worse condition than the first house. The third place was our favorite — we loved meeting the owner, and the house itself was cute and seemed well cared for, plus a washer and dryer was included. But the location was not ideal for us.

It was a classic case of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” No house was perfect. We joked, driving home, that all we needed to do was move House #3 to the location of House #1 and we’d be all set.

The next weekend, we made appointments to see more possibilities. The townhouse was less expensive, but we weren’t sure if we wanted shared walls — something that has been problematic at times about apartment living. Another house was very nice and had been recently renovated, but they wanted tenants to move in immediately, and we were hoping to move at the end of the month. Another place was on the corner of a busy, noisy street. The kitchen was gorgeous, but the bedrooms were tiny.

House-hunting revealed so much of how our brains work and the games they play with our emotions. First of all, we quickly realized that there is no One-and-Only Perfect Home out there waiting for us. {Or, if there is, we aren’t willing to put in months of house-hunting to find it. We need to move out in March.} Every place we saw had its positives and negatives. And our brains — my brain, at least — loved to go into comparison mode. Each house we saw, my brain would worry itself over the “flaws” and less-than-perfect components, comparing this Actual House with an Imagined Ideal House that existed nowhere other than my mind. My brain loved to insist,

But wait, what if Imagined Ideal House does exist somewhere in the real world? What if it is the next house around the corner, the one we will find next week, or the week after that? What if we give in and sign a lease, but then our true Perfect Home pops up on Zillow and it’s too late?

It was a prime example of Fear Of Missing Out. The lure to continue searching reminded me of gambling — always hoping to win bigger next time. Allyn and I could have kept house-hunting forever, searching for that elusive ideal. But, as the saying goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” We also didn’t want to hedge and hesitate on applying to rent a home we really liked, and miss out when someone else swooped in and rented it before we got our act together.

That happened to us with one property — which, looking back, I do not think would have been the best fit for us — but, when we found out it was no longer on the market, it was amazing how quickly all of those “flaws” disappeared and our FOMO was replaced by panic that we would never find any home to rent in time, that everything was being scooped up and we were too late. It is so easy to fall into a scarcity mindset. We had to remind ourselves to take deep breaths and have faith that we would end up in the right place for us. That the pie is big enough for everyone to get a slice.

My brain can contradict itself so fitfully. In the direct opposite of insisting that there was always a Better House Out There, waiting in the next Zillow email, my brain also loved to immediately get emotionally attached to each house we saw by imagining myself living there — only this was not Actual Me, this was Ideal Me. I would focus on how much I wanted the huge yard of House #1 so I could plant an enormous garden, because my Ideal Self is an avid gardener, even though in reality the only plants I seem able to keep alive are succulents. Or, my brain would fixate on how the townhouses had a pool, and we could go swimming there all the time, even though our current apartment has a pool and I have used it approximately three times in two years, because in reality swimming is not my favorite activity and the pool is always cold. Or, I would think about how House #4 was right by a nature trail, and I could go walking there every morning before I start my work. Which is a lovely idea, but not the most important factor in choosing where to live. Because what if there are a lot of bees on the nature trail, or I find a yoga class I love and decide I want to do that most mornings instead?

It is true that I can think about my Ideal Self and use this vision as inspiration. In her book about habits, Better Than Before, Gretchin Rubin writes about how a big life change — like moving — is the perfect time to start a new habit or let go of a habit that is not serving you. Moving is like pressing the “re-set” button on your habits because your environment is changing, so your daily routines are also ripe for change. Maybe I will begin with a small vegetable garden in our new backyard and see how it goes. Maybe I will try going for a walk in the morning, before I dive into my work. Maybe I will shop at the farmer’s market; quit processed sugar once and for all; meditate in the afternoons; banish the clutter.

Allyn and I made a list of the aspects for our new place that we find most important: in our price range; a safe neighborhood; close to public transit for his commute and close to the freeway for my commute; spacious enough for us to have a little room to grow. All the rest would be icing on the cake.

When we first toured the house that would end up being Our Next Home, we didn’t see fireworks the moment we stepped in the front door. We didn’t look at each other with knowing smiles that said, “Yes. This is The One.” We didn’t immediately tell the owner, “We’ll take it!” We followed the owner through the rooms, noting and nodding and smiling, asking questions and ticking off boxes in our heads. We talked about it on the way home. And the more we talked about it, the more we liked it. No, it is not a Perfect House. But it is pretty darn near perfect-for-us, right here and right now, in this chapter of our lives.

When I think about life in our new house, I imagine getting to know our neighbors in the cute, quiet cul-de-sac. I imagine dinners al fresco out on our back patio. I imagine cooking meals in the bright kitchen and writing in the back bedroom we’ll convert into an office and hanging our stockings on the fireplace mantel in the living room at Christmas time. I imagine hosting game nights with friends, hosting my parents and my brother in our spare bedroom, hosting dinner parties and birthday parties and summer barbecues and holiday gift-exchanges. I imagine a home filled with stories and laughter, good food and good company, warmth and comfort. I imagine a home filled with love — love in every room, love in every wall, love in every nook and cranny and crevice.

I guess that is the final, and most important, lesson I learned from house-hunting. It was actually something I already knew — something I said in my wedding vows — just something it can be easy to forget in the striving and dreaming and hustle and bustle of this life.

The truth is, I could be happy in pretty much any of the houses we looked at. Wherever we live, we will make it into our home with our care, our spit-shine and elbow grease, our personal touches — and, most important, with our love for each other. As excited as we are to have a bigger space, the reality is that we could stay another year in our small apartment and I would be content. As long as I’m with Allyn, I’m home.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • What are some lessons you have learned from the experience of searching for a new place to live, whether buying a home or renting your first college apartment?
  • Think about your “Ideal Self.” What are some differences between this ideal version of you, and your actual routines and behavior? Why are these traits “ideal” for you?
  • If you could magically adopt a new habit or drop an existing habit tomorrow, what would it be and why?

be like the ducks

No, the title of this post is not referring to the Mighty Ducks. {But you can be like them, too.}

I’m talking about literal mallard ducks. Let me explain.

This afternoon, I went on a lovely walk at the lake by our apartment — we are so fortunate to live near an amazingly gorgeous recreation area and I am trying to take full advantage of it before we move! It was a beautiful, sunny, clear winter day. The lake was so still it looked like a sheet of blue-green glass.

As I gazed down at the lake, I noticed some ripples close to the shore. Floating in the water was a cluster of ducks. One was paddling around, looking just like a toy duck floating in the bathtub. But the other two were nothing more than little duck behinds–their entire heads and necks were submerged in the water as they scrounged around for lake grub. It was a pretty adorable sight. I smiled to myself and kept walking.

At first, I thought the ducks were nothing more than a peaceful sight. But, as I walked along, my thoughts kept coming back to them. Nature was reminding me of an important lesson.

Lately, I’ve been feeling more distracted than usual. I came into 2018 feeling a little bit “behind” — I wasn’t planning on undergoing surgery at the end of 2017, and instead of launching into the new year full-throttle I eased into it slowly, letting my body and spirit recover. That was soon followed by an emergency trip to Ventura to visit my Gramps in the hospital, and then a fun trip to NYC to visit my brother. When I returned to my everyday life at the end of January, I felt like I was in full-on “catch up” mode — responding to what felt like an avalanche of emails, unpacking my bags and finally taking down the Christmas decorations, scheduling students and clients, trying to get organized.

The result? Dizzying distraction. My mind has been spinning itself silly as it bounces around a list of tasks I “need” to do or “should” be doing; no matter what I’m working on, it feels like I should be working on something else. My attention zooms from responding to an email to drafting a blog post, but before I finish I jump over to prep for a student appointment I have later, and oh wait I should probably get dinner started…

Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

And when the day is done, I’m left feeling depleted — like I’ve spent all day with my butt in the chair in front of my computer, and I don’t quite know what I have to show for it.

Yesterday as I drove home from work, I listened to an episode of The Minimalists’ podcast where they answered questions from the audience at one of their speaking events. A woman asked for advice on how to make time for priorities. “It seems like I never have time for what I most want to do,” she said. I found myself nodding along.

Joshua and Ryan’s advice was simple yet profound. Their words were exactly what I needed to hear. {Why are the simplest things often the hardest to actually implement?} They advised her to schedule in FIRST — not last — the tasks that are most important to her, that speak to her core values, that relate to her passion projects. Then she can fill the rest of her calendar with other tasks and obligations and desires. But if she leaves her own priorities until the end, they will quite possibly get left out of her day. And then they’re not really priorities, are they?

This advice reminded me of the oft-evoked metaphor of the glass jar. Imagine your day as a glass jar: your important tasks are represented by big stones, while the less-important and niggling everyday tasks are represented by pebbles and sand. If you fill your jar with sand and pebbles first, there is no way you can fit the big stones inside — there’s not enough room. But if you put the big stones in first, and then fill the rest of the jar with tiny pebbles and sand, the smaller stones will fit in around the big ones and you will be able to fill the jar to its fullest.

I need to get back into my routine of doing this. The past couple of weeks, I’ve spent most of my time on the “urgent” tasks and I haven’t been able to nourish my most important projects. In The Minimalists podcast, Joshua gave an example from his life: “Every morning, I exercise, read and write.” My heart soared with recognition: That’s what I want to do, too! That’s important to me, too! So I made a schedule. I’ve found that often my brain likes the idea of an unscheduled day — it sounds so loose, so free! — but when I actually move through my day, not having a plan makes me feel unproductive and unmoored. When I could be doing anything, I feel like I should be doing everything.

So I am tweaking my morning plan to be like this:

  • Wake up and immediately write for thirty minutes.
  • Enjoy a healthy breakfast and read for pleasure.
  • Go through my favorite 15-minute yoga routine.
  • Meditate for 3-5 minutes.
  • Go to the gym or go for a walk.

Then, once I get home from exercising, I shower and dive into my emails, daily tasks, “urgent” business, etc. I am much more happy and productive, and feel less “behind” on my day, when I have already written, read, exercised, and gotten in some heart habits like yoga and meditation. BUT all of this is easier said than done! I often feel pulled towards my email inbox and my phone throughout this morning routine. I need to force myself to stay true to my plan and to commit to these tasks that are most important to me. Stones first, then pebbles!

I am also trying to get into the habit of “batching” my work instead of jumping around from task to task. For example, I’ll work on a blog post until it is finished. I’ll edit student work for an hour without interruption. I’ll answer email for thirty minutes straight and then take a break, rather than checking my inbox every two minutes. This makes me more productive because I am much more focused.

Which brings me back to the ducks. As I was walking around the lake, I thought of how silly it would look if ducks acted like distracted humans. Imagine a duck diving down under the water, then coming up a second later, then diving down under the water again. A duck would never get anything to eat if it behaved that way!

Just as nature has taught me the wisdom of the seasons — there is a time for harvesting and there is a time for sowing; there are seasons of abundance and seasons of scarcity — nature has also taught me the wisdom of focus. I want to be like the ducks, calmly contemplating the stillness of the lake. I want to be like the ducks, paddling around with my little legs when the weather is sunny and still paddling when the storms encroach. I want to be like the ducks, diving down under the surface to forage for food — not too brief, not too long — then popping back up again to float around with my buddies.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as a jumping-off point:

  • What lessons have you learned from nature?
  • Do you have a morning routine? What does it look like? If not, imagine what would be your dream way to start the day.
  • What are the “large stones” in your jar of life? What are your big passion projects? Are you making the time for these important tasks the way you would like to be? If not, what might you change in your day to put these priorities front-and-center?

word for the year

Hi everyone! It feels so good to be back in this space, getting back into my normal routine. The past month and a half have been a roller coaster and have brought the most important things in my life front-and-center: family, friends, love, health. After the devastating Thomas Fire, my grandfather being hospitalized with pneumonia {he is, blessedly, recovering well!} and a health scare of my own that I might write about sometime, December rocked my world like no other month has besides January 2015. {I can’t believe it has been three whole years since my beautiful friend died. Love you forever, C.}

It could be tempting to enter 2018 clutching a shawl around my shoulders sewn of fear, despair, scarcity and anger. Instead, I am embracing 2018 with wide-open eyes that are seeing love, gratitude, and healing all around. I am working each day to keep my heart wide open and to witness the small moments of compassion, grace and magic that comprise our daily lives and bind us closer to one another. I am reminding myself of phoenixes rising from the ashes. I am reminding myself of all the people and love in my life who give me strength. I am reminding myself of this quote I have always loved from Ernest Hemingway:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

We are all broken at times by senseless pain and sadness. But I believe that we are stronger for these broken places. And our compassion for others is strengthened, too.

Last year, Allyn and I had a weekly ritual of writing down something we were grateful for on a slip of paper and putting it into a jar. On New Year’s Eve, we emptied out the jar and read through all of our slips of paper. I was overwhelmed by the abundance of our blessings. It is my new favorite tradition, one we are continuing this year — and I hope all the years to come.

Another new tradition I believe in is setting an intention for the year. This could be one word or a short phrase. I think of it as a mantra, a touchstone, something to come back to again and again throughout the year. Something to inspire you on the slogging days and remind you of what’s important on the hectic days. Something to center you and focus the energy you put out into the world.

Last year, my word was FOUNDATION. I wrote, “I want to work on getting the foundation of my life in order. For me, that is broken down into four main areas: my health; my relationships; my writing; my home environment.”

Looking back now, I think that setting this intention really helped focus and motivate me throughout 2017. I do feel like I have a much stronger foundation now than I did at this point last year. I established more solid workout and writing routines; I now go to the gym twice a week, go for walks on many other days, and do at least 15 minutes of yoga most every morning. And I have settled into enjoying the process of writing more than being focused on the end result that I do not control. In 2017, I finished one novel manuscript and started a new one; wrote many blog posts and short stories; and overall feel much more at peace with the actual daily process of putting words down on paper. I feel more confident in my abilities to finish what I start rather than procrastinating on my most heart-vital projects. That is a huge gift that 2017 gave me!

Motivated by foundation, I invested time and money into my health this past year, and I think that is a big reason why I was able to recover from my recent surgery so quickly. I discovered some new plant-based recipes that I adore — lookin’ at you, roasted brussel sprouts & sweet potatoes & cabbage! — and now have a regular meal-planning routine. I also read books and learned a lot about my body, my cycle, nutrition, and intuitive eating. Health can be one of the slowest areas of change; with incremental change, it can be difficult to notice improvement. But looking back, it is strikingly clear that I feel much more empowered and energized now than I did at this time last year. Health is something that it is easy to take for granted, and I am also more grateful than ever for my body and mind.

In 2017, I took more trips than ever to visit family and friends: heading to NYC multiple times, hosting Greg and Holly in our little apartment for visits, having a girls weekend with Mom, going to the James Taylor concert in SF with Dad, celebrating my dear friends Mikey & Luana’s wedding, traveling to Nashville with the fam for Thanksgiving, celebrating my 30th birthday with so many people I love, visiting my grandparents every Friday, and making more of an effort to call and email far-flung friends to stay in touch. We also made friends with our neighbors and have so enjoyed hosting each other for dinner. I hope to continue this trend in 2018 — and it is looking like my travels will certainly continue, with many trips and weddings on the horizon! During April alone I have three trips on the agenda, plus a dear friend visiting who I haven’t seen in five years! In 2018 we’ll hopefully host even more get-togethers and game nights when Allyn and I move into a bigger home. 🙂 Right now our max capacity for dinner is 4 or 5 people, including us. It will be so exciting to be able to host larger gatherings and parties.

The word “foundation” also manifested itself in unexpectedly wonderful ways. I received new teaching opportunities and my business has grown and flourished. Allyn and I have been able to pay off almost all of our student loan debt, strengthening our financial foundation. After six years of rejections, I received a phone call from Yellow Flag Press informing me that my short-story collection Woman, Running Late, in a Dress won their Cypress & Pine Short Fiction Award — it will be published in March! I can’t wait to share it with all of you. Perhaps most importantly, my relationship with Allyn has grown even more solid and nurturing. He is my rock. This past year we have taken trips together to Boulder and Santa Cruz and Monterrey, plus a staycation weekend in San Jose, and started a new tradition of monthly surprise dates. The trials of the past couple months have brought us even closer together, and I am so beyond grateful for him.

Moving into 2018, I kept thinking about how I wanted to build upon this beautiful foundation of 2017. When December hit, and it felt like a lot of what I knew and loved had been razed to the ground, I thought more about what it means to build back up again. It means being resilient and compassionate; it means grieving and remembering; it means crying and smiling, too. I kept coming back to the image of tiny seeds. They may seem unimportant, but they are vital. Seeds possess a powerful life-force. Inside them is the possibility of springing forth out of the dark soil, bursting into the sunlight, growing into something new.

My intention for 2018 is PLANTING SEEDS. In other words, I want to be a SOWER. I want to plant seeds in my writing, in my teaching, in my relationships, in my health and in my home. I want to plant seeds of optimism, joy and hope. I want to keep planting seeds even when I feel discouraged, even when it feels like I am staring at a blank canvas of dark soil without any sprouts, or when some sprouts I had hoped for die out. I want to begin again, and to keep sowing. To focus on the process of sowing and find comfort in that process. None of us can know which seeds we plant will blossom. Some seeds we plant might not even grow during our lifetime. But that doesn’t mean they never grow at all. We might plant a seed today that burrows within our souls and brings something else to light months or years from now — in ourselves, or in someone else. I have always loved this quote:

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” — Nelson Henderson

I want to plant seeds that grow into solid, shade-giving trees one day. Yet I don’t want to focus on the trees themselves. I want to focus on the joy of planting.

One of my favorite artists is Vincent Van Gogh, and my brother shared this painting of his with me. I have made a print of it, which is taped above my writing desk, reminding me of my intention for the year.

I want to leave you with these photographs of an art exhibit at the Met Bruer in NYC. I did not see this exhibit in person, but that my dad saw it with Greg in 2017 and shared it with me. This piece takes up an ENTIRE huge wall and consists of 365 small individual square paintings that are combined to make a larger piece.

My dad wrote, “When I looked at it, I thought about how overwhelming it would be to imagine creating the whole thing at once. It would be a loooong few weeks or months of work! However… if the artist decided to paint just one per day, what an easy and not overwhelming — in fact, what an enjoyable — undertaking it would become!”

I think this is a great metaphor not just for art and creative endeavors, but for life as a whole. What are your big goals for 2018? What are some amazing projects, adventures, trips, and undertakings you dream about that perhaps seem overwhelming? How can you break them down, step by step and day by day, into smaller “paintings”?

Here’s to a year of planting seeds that sprout up from the soil into beautiful new life!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free write” about these questions:

  • If you could sum up your 2017 in one word or phrase, what would it be? Why?
  • Reflect on your highs & lows of 2017. What did you love? What do you want to do differently the next time around?
  • What word or phrase will you choose for your intention in 2018? What does this mean to you?
  • What are you grateful for, right here and now?

anticipation and remembering

When I was in college, I lived in an apartment with three of my best friends. Every year, we threw a big holiday party the weekend before winter break. Our anticipation was born right after Thanksgiving. We spent hours planning the party: sending out invitations, shopping for refreshments, deciding on party favors and music. We cut out paper snowflakes and hung them from our ceiling; we strung up twinkle-lights; one year we even managed to get a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree on super discount at a tree lot, and we decorated it until it was more tinsel than tree. I would be so excited for our party that time seemed to drag on as I tracked its glacier-slow approach on my calendar.

And then, suddenly, it was the day of the party. There was always a flurry of last-minute preparations: baking cookies, making peppermint hot chocolate, wrapping presents. Every year, the party itself passed in a blur of friends and laughter, dancing and singing, photos and hugs. Within three or four hours—the blink of an eye, it seemed—our party was over. We’d wave goodbye as our last guests headed out the door, and then my three best friends and I would be left standing in our empty apartment with a mess to clean up.

It’s hard not to feel a little sad in those moments, when all the anticipation is over, and life resumes to normal. It can feel like the magic is gone. But, looking back, my favorite memories from those holiday parties are not the parties themselves, or even all the anticipation and preparation. The memories I cherish the most are from the mornings after the parties, when my roommates and I would eat scrambled eggs—ignoring the dirty dishes and overflowing trash can for a little while longer—and talk all about the amazingly fun event we had just hosted.

Because, yes, there is joy in the anticipation. There is joy in the savoring. But there is also joy in the telling, the retelling, and the remembering.

“The world is shaped by two things: stories told and the memories they leave behind.” — Vera Nazarian

red-rimmed, clear eyes + broken, full hearts {part 2}

{If you missed Part 1, you can read it here!}

My mom flew out the final week to help me move on and wrap up my Indiana life. Three years before, she had driven out to West Lafayette with me and helped me move into my first solo apartment. There was a kind of poetry to her presence, at the end of my time there, just as she had been there with me for the beginning. So much had changed, and yet the important things were still the same. There she was, my mom, still helping me arrange the pieces, still helping make the mess manageable.

When things need to get done, my mom goes into hyper-drive. She made lists and made phone calls. With kindness and gentleness, she listened to me and dried my tears, and she also kept me moving forward, checking things off the to-do list. We dropped carloads of items off at Goodwill. We sold my furniture. We sold my car. We packed and shipped home two huge boxes of my possessions.

{At the Indianapolis airport, ready to fly home}

When the late spring sun would plunge down below the horizon, it was our signal that our work was done for the day. I would throw together something random for dinner out of the remaining ingredients in my pantry. We would open a bottle of wine. Then we’d collapse on the couch, exhausted, and select the “Play All” option on the disk of Friday Night Lights. We binge-watched the entirety of season five together over a couple days. At the end of the last episode, we both got a little teary. To be honest, that was a time in my life when I cried easily; after so long of holding my emotions in, it was like I had no control anymore and tears came storming out of my eyes at every opportunity. I remember sobbing as I watched the Katy Perry biography on HBO later that summer, during the part when she and Russell Brand broke up, and she sang, “Hey Jude.”

But I digress.

I think there were a lot of reasons I got teary during the final episode of Friday Night Lights. I think, when Allyn and I watch it soon, I will probably get teary again. There’s something about the end of a story that makes us want to grasp on tighter, that makes us sad to let go. Even when we know it is time for us to move on. We’re like little kids riding our bikes around the neighborhood cul-de-sac at dusk, begging the sunlight to linger for a few more minutes. We lean towards the TV screen, soaking in the familiar settings and faces, wanting to sit with the characters for just a little while longer. The final music swells, and our hearts break a little. We just can’t believe that it’s over already. It all went by so fast! So many episodes we took for granted, and now all of a sudden it’s done.

TV shows are like life that way. I think we could live for a thousand years and we’d still never be quite ready to let go of this gorgeous, impossible, imperfectly perfect humanness.

{photo from Chagall’s America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago: http://www.artic.edu/exhibition/Chagall}

 

Watching that final season of Friday Night Lights with my mom on the lumpy couch of that temporary subleased apartment, I smiled to myself. I realized that the show had been shouting out a message to me all along. For all of those weeks and months when I was studying the episodes, searching for meaning in the characters’ whispers and confessions and relationships, there was a line of recurring wisdom that I kept missing and missing. It’s a line that Coach Taylor says to his players throughout all five seasons. His motto. His way of life.

CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE.

For so long, my eyes had been clouded. For so long, my heart had been empty. Sitting on that couch beside my mom, my belongings packed up to move back to California, my Facebook status newly changed to “Single,” I didn’t know what the future would hold. But my vision was clear, for the first time in a long time. My life was mine again. And even though my heart was breaking, and even though it was hard to imagine ever being strong enough to be vulnerable enough to fall in love again, I knew that my heart was also more full than it had been in a long time. Ending my unhealthy relationship had been a radical act of love for myself.

It would be a while yet before I met Allyn, but I like to think that the day I ended my unhealthy relationship was the day I stepped onto the path that would lead me to him. I chose him—and our amazing, wonderful, beautiful partnership—when I chose the pain of listening to my gut. I remember thinking, “This is for you, Future Dallas. This sucks for me right now, but I’m doing it for you. Please don’t waste this. Please never settle.”

If I could reach back through time and talk to Past Dallas, that terrified and terribly brave young woman who stepped into her truth, this is what I would tell her:

Thank you for doing what you knew was right. Thank you for taking the hard path. Thank you for believing in me, your future self. Thank you for planting the seeds of this life. Hang in there. It’s going to be so worth it. More than worth it. I can’t wait for you to see what happens next.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer, and use the following questions as jumping-off points for some freewriting:

  • What are your all-time favorite TV shows? What lessons or impacts have they had on your life?
  • Write about a time in your life that was both terrible and beautiful.
  • When have you listened to that clear inner voice and stepped into your truth, even when it was painful? Write about what that experience was like for you.
  • What would you tell your Past Self if you could reach back through time?

red-rimmed, clear eyes + full, broken hearts {part 1}

For the past couple years, Allyn and I have been slowly working our way through all five seasons of Friday Night Lights, which is perhaps my all-time favorite TV show. We are on the last disk of the fifth and final season, drawing out these remaining episodes slowly, like savoring the final bites of a rich dessert. I love Friday Night Lights because of the nuanced, complicated characters; the vivid small-town setting; the dramas of high school and relationships and football. I also love Friday Night Lights because it makes me think of my mom.

My mom is a huge sports fan, particularly football, and she is the one in our house who first started watching Friday Night Lights. When I was living at home with my parents for a year, after I graduated college and before I moved to Indiana for grad school, she watched the show religiously. That was the fourth season. I started watching it with her and, before I knew it, I was hooked too.

When I moved away, I bought the first three seasons on DVD and, throughout those lonely and cold months when I missed my parents with a breathless ache, I methodically worked my way through the episodes. Even though I have never lived in Texas, I felt a bit closer to my hometown as I watched the familiar characters move around onscreen against the flat, dusty land and big blue sky. Eventually, I bought season four on DVD, and then season five. By the time I watched the fifth season, I was combing the plotlines and analyzing the characters, searching and searching. As if the episodes of this TV show could give me answers. As if it could help me smooth and mend the tangled mess of my own life.

In the fifth season of Friday Night Lights, I remember a particular scene when two of the characters got ready to go out to dinner, the guy holding the door open for the girl, the two of them heading outside together, smiling, an ordinary everyday happiness, an easy comfort that seemed so elusive to me at the time. I remember the quiet desperation that settled within my ribcage. I was jealous of these fictional people and this fictional relationship. I wanted to jump inside the television screen and escape my life.

During that time, I was ensnared in a deeply unhealthy relationship. Somewhere within my gut, I knew that it wasn’t right. I knew I had to get out. But I was scared. I kept searching outside of myself for answers, when really the answer was in my heart, beating right there inside my chest for every moment of every day. The answer wasn’t really elusive. It was effusive; it was everywhere. Still, for a while, I ignored it. I thrust my head into the sand. Until one day I realized I was choking, and I yanked my neck up, gasping for air, blinking the grit out of my eyes, staring at the world like it was an entirely new place. Which, in many ways, it was. When I found the courage to leave that relationship, my world opened up again.

There are some seasons in your life that are shockingly terrible and shockingly beautiful at once. This was one of those seasons for me. It has crystalized in my mind as a period when I was living purely. My emotions were raw and my needs boiled down to the bare essentials: eat, drink, sleep. Teach my classes. Honor my commitments. Finish my graduate degree. In some ways, I was learning to live all over again. Uncoupled, I was learning to live for myself again. It was painful and it was cleansing.

When I think back on that time, the days seemed so long—so empty and so full at the same time. I remember walking up the big hill to campus from my friend’s apartment, where I was subleasing a room for the remaining six weeks of the school year. I remember soaking in the early spring sunshine and the cold breeze on my face. I remember long evenings, binge-watching the Hulu show “Battleground” and reading until I felt tired enough that I could maybe fall asleep. I read so many books in that period—nearly a novel a day. I remember sorting through my accumulation of papers and possessions, trying to create something out of the scraps: making baby blankets for some friends; writing cards and mailing them; donating bags of clothing to Goodwill; cooking strange recipes out of the random assortment of nonperishables in my pantry.

It is a strange time of my life to look back on with fondness. But I do. I was a butterfly emerging from my chrysalis; a phoenix emerging from the ashes of my previous life. I was my whole self, and nothing but myself. After a long time of ignoring that deep inner voice, after a long time of lying to myself, I was finally living my truth.

 

This story will be continued on Friday. See you then!

mental snapshots from our wedding, one year later

This past Monday, Allyn and I celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary! It is crazy that an entire year has already flown by. We took a wonderful, relaxing weekend getaway to Santa Cruz where we splurged on a couples massage, savored a beautiful dinner at a fancy restaurant, stayed up late watching Dirty Dancing on TV {“Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”}, and cooled off with plenty of beach time strolling by the water. It was absolutely perfect.

September 4, 2016 is still so clear in my mind. Before our wedding, many people told me that the big day would be a whirlwind and that I wouldn’t remember a thing. So I made a conscious effort to take mental snapshots throughout the day and really soak in every moment as best as I could. Now, a year later, I thought it would be fun to share some moments that really stick out in my memory.

That morning, I woke up and felt this immediate flurry of excitement in my belly.  Since Allyn and I live together, we thought it would be more special to stay apart the night before the wedding, so we saw each other at the rehearsal dinner and then not again until the ceremony. I was staying in a hotel room with my parents and brother, and we went to the continental breakfast together at the hotel, just like so many family vacations throughout my life. It was so nice to have that “calm before the storm” with my family. I remember thinking that it was my last “normal” slice of time as a single woman, before the roller coaster of the day truly began.

Mom and I went to the salon to get our hair done, meeting Allyson and Dana there. Everyone kept saying how calm I was acting; the woman styling my hair couldn’t believe I was the bride. I wasn’t trying to be calm. I was just acting like myself. I felt a little nervous, but mostly excited. The day felt both normal and surreal. Both ordinary and extraordinary.

We headed to Dana’s house, where her mom had thoughtfully picked up a bunch of sandwiches and snacks for us to eat while we all got our make-up done and visited. Holly and Erica joined us there, and we sat around the table and chatted while rotating through the make-up chair. I remember trying to eat a turkey croissant sandwich {for as calm as I felt, I wasn’t really hungry} and writing out some last-minute placards for our memory table, feeling like I was at some magical sleepover with my best friends all together in one place. Time compressed and expanded; it seemed to pass so slowly, and then all of a sudden it was almost time to leave. I remember toasting each other with champagne, feeling like the day had already been so special, and knowing that this was just the beginning.

We drove to the church. I drove my mom and Holly in my little Charley car, navigating the same roads I had taken countless times before on my way to church on so many routine Sundays. On the way there, we stopped and picked up my mom’s best friend and my “honorary aunt” Alicia, who has always been a special part of my life. She used to come over and have epic Christmas cookie baking extravaganzas with us, and she let me bring her pet tortoise to show-and-tell in kindergarten, and she made me feel beautiful even during my awkward pimply middle-school years. It made me giddy to be driving my Alicia and my mom and my Holly to my wedding. I kept thinking, This is real life. This is happening for real!

When we parked at the church, a complex string of phone calls and texts ensued to make sure that Allyn was definitely NOT on the church grounds and would definitely NOT see me as we made our way into the bride’s get-ready room. {I later learned that Allyn was arriving at the same time and had to wait outside the parking lot on the street for a few minutes. Sorry, hon!} At the church, I marveled at how amazing everything looked. It was just like we had talked about and planned! Everyone was doing exactly what they had promised they would do, and it was all coming together perfectly. I felt like I was buzzing with light. It was really sinking in now. I was getting married! In just a few hours!

Time kept compressing and expanding. On your wedding day, there is a lot of waiting around and then hurrying up, feeling like you have all the time in the world and worrying you won’t have enough time. My bridesmaids wandered in and wandered out and asked if I needed anything and refilled my water and reported that they saw Allyn, he looked happy, he looked handsome. Our photographer took photos.

One of my favorite moments was opening Allyn’s gift: a collection of reasons why he couldn’t wait to marry me.

Another favorite moment was when my mom helped put on my veil–the same veil she had worn 34 years before to marry my father on the exact same day, September 4.

Another mental snapshot: I was all dressed and ready to go, and my dad and brother came in to see me, and they were simply beaming.

I remember taking photos with my bridesmaids outside before the wedding, watching some of our guests arrive. It felt REAL real, seeing all of these people from various parts of our lives all coming together. I remember waving to my Gramps across the parking lot as he entered the church. I remember my cousin Arianna running over in her bright yellow dress. I remember holding Allyn’s hand, our eyes squeezed shut, as we stood on separate sides of a corner wall and the photographer snapped this picture.

Then it was time. My bridesmaids and I were lining up in the hallway. I decided I had to pee again and Dana came with me and held my dress. Back in line, we could hear the piano music swell up. My dad asked me one last time if I was happy, if I was sure. I told him I had never been more sure of anything in my life. He smiled and said, “I know.”

Walking down the aisle is one of those vivid mental snapshots I will treasure for the rest of my life. I can’t even put into words the love and joy and excitement and gratitude that flooded my spirit, surrounded by the smiling faces of so many people I love, as I walked towards my favorite smile in the universe.

{Thank you so much to Ngan for capturing those special moments on video!}

The ceremony flew by. I remember squeezing Allyn’s hands. I remember smiling so fully my cheeks hurt. I remember surprising myself when I broke down in tears reading my vows. I remember my friend Ben and my cousin Arianna singing heartrendingly beautiful solos. And then Allyn drew me towards him, leaned in, and kissed me. Our minister announced us as officially husband and wife!

After everyone cheered and we walked back up the aisle together; after the flurry of photos with our wedding party, photos with our parents and grandparents, and photos with each other; Allyn and I found ourselves back in the peaceful church sanctuary. All of our guests were inside the reception hall, waiting for our grand entrance. We savored a couple minutes of quiet, sitting there together, just soaking it in. That is one of my favorite mental snapshots of the entire day. That little slice of time, just the two of us, newly husband and wife.

Soon, it was time for dinner to begin. We walked together into the reception hall, weaving our way hand-in-hand through the tables filled with people we love.

My dad’s toast made me cry. The meal was even was more delicious than our tasting had been, and I was hungrier than I had expected to be. Allyn and I walked around to all the tables, chatting with our guests and hugging everyone. I remember it was so hard to tear ourselves away from each table, from each conversation. I wished I had hours upon hours to talk with every single person there!

But soon, it was time for more toasts. My brother gleaned inspiration from the movie “Wedding Crashers” — one of our family’s favorite movies that we have watched countless times together — and he made everyone laugh.

Allyson mentioned Celine in her toast. I remember reaching down across the table and grabbing Holly’s hand as we both started to cry. I felt Celine with us all day, and it was really beautiful to have her acknowledged. She was with us in spirit and Allyson brought her to life again in her words.

More snapshots:

My first dance with Allyn, to the song he played on the guitar when he proposed to me, swaying around the dance floor just like we had practiced so many times in our dance lessons and in our living room and on the beach in Hawaii during our summer vacation, and it was the sweetest dance of my life.

Dancing with my dad to Tim McGraw’s “My Little Girl”–a moment I had expected to be bittersweet or teary, but was only joyful. We talked and remembered and laughed about everything, the past 29 years condensed into 3 minutes.

Cutting a cupcake in half and feeding it to each other. Feeling, for the first time I can remember, that I was already so hyped up on excitement that I didn’t even want any more dessert, not even a heavenly chocolate cupcake.

Changing into my tennis shoes and compression socks for dancing. Realizing, minutes before the garter toss, that I hadn’t put my garter on! Running to the bride’s room and pulling it up over my tennis shoes.

Dancing to “The Y-M-C-A” and “Sweet Caroline” and T.Swift and Michael Jackson. The dance floor crowded with people waving their arms, laughing, dancing goofily. Cracking up at my brother’s silly dance move “The Raging Bull”– a relic from childhood. My mom’s cousin Diane doing the “Elaine Benes dance” from Seinfeld. My great-aunt Elaine out there with her cane and Allyn’s great-aunt Flo swaying from side to side with a huge smile on her face. My grandma dancing to “Brick House” and exclaiming, “Oh, I just love this song!”

And then, all of a sudden, it was the last dance. And then it was time for us to go. Allyn and I held hands as our friends and family lined up with tiny containers of bubbles to send us on our way. They blew bubbles as we walked together down the aisle they created for us. I remember grabbing my dad’s hand and squeezing it as I walked past him. And then my new husband and I walked out into the cool, star-winking night.

Driving home, I felt both jazzed up and wrung-out in the absolute best way. That drive was the epitome of ordinary/extraordinary moments. Everything was the same–and yet, also, everything had changed.

That night, I couldn’t dim the brightness inside myself enough to fall asleep. Every time I closed my eyes, memories from the day flashed through my mind and my heart overflowed. I remember thinking, utterly serious: “I’m never going to be able to sleep again. I’m too happy to ever sleep again.”

Thankfully, I have been able to sleep again.

But the happiness from that day has remained and deepened with time.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write about an ordinary/extraordinary day in your life.
  • Looking back at your wedding, or another important day, what moments do you remember most vividly?
  • Write about a time you felt overflowing with happiness.

why i don’t want to be “the one that got away” {part 2}

{If you missed Part One, you can read it here!}

When we left off in our story, I had finally gotten over my crush on M and felt like we had a real friendship. In fact, he was one of my best friends. But then one night he came over and said exactly what I had wished for the previous year…

It felt like something out of a movie, or like a big joke. I kept waiting for him to laugh and say he was just messing with me, but I had never seen him more serious. He said that he really liked me, as more than just a friend. That he wanted to give us a shot. And I thought about how much I had hoped for this—that he would wake up and realize that, despite all evidence to the contrary and despite turning down countless opportunities to date me, he had actually been in love with me the whole time. If I had written this in a story for my Creative Writing workshop, my classmates would have lampooned the plot for being wholly unbelievable and contrived. Yet, here he was, earnestness in his eyes as he gently took my hand. I told him yes, of course, let’s give us a shot. There was a knot in my stomach, but I pushed it away.

M and I only dated for a couple weeks. I had thought my feelings for him would be like a faucet that I could turn on again, but in reality they were the embers of a fire that had gone out. I simply didn’t think of him that way anymore. My wish had come true—I was completely over him. What had I written in my journal? Someday, M is going to look back and regret that he treated me like this, and by then I’ll have moved on. It will be too late. That is exactly what had happened. I got exactly what I wished for.

And it was awful.

M seemed to take things well at first, and I thought we could still be friends. But when I started dating someone else, he became mopey and awkward. Our friendship withered away. I only saw him occasionally, at group hang-outs and parties, and I never knew what to say to him. Our other friends grew annoyed, complaining that he talked incessantly about how to win me back. In truth, he didn’t even know me anymore. I wasn’t a real person to him; I was a prize atop a pedestal. I was “the one that got away.” I have a memory of one party towards the end of senior year, when I spent a while talking to him, listing out all of my bad habits, trying to convince him of all the reasons why he didn’t want to date me. That seems like it should be a symbol for something.

I haven’t talked to M in a long time. I hope he is doing well. I hope he has fallen madly in love and is exceedingly happy.

I think about M whenever the topic of revenge comes up. I think revenge is a deeply human emotion. It seems only natural to be hurting and to want someone else to hurt too. To feel unappreciated, and to want someone else to appreciate you too late. To feel unseen, and to want someone else to feel regret for what they missed. I believe that revenge is tied to vulnerability. We open ourselves up to someone and it goes badly—we feel too deeply and messily and hungrily—and we want to regain our sense of control. We want someone else to be vulnerable instead. I think that is at the root of revenge. It certainly was for me. I wouldn’t have called it “revenge” but in essence that’s what it was: I wanted to punish M for breaking my heart. I wanted him to always regret not loving me back, not opening up to me when I was vulnerable with him. At the time, it felt like I would always be hurting. It felt like I would never be enough for someone else. Looking back, that all seems so silly now. He was just doing his best, same as I was. We are all bumbling through life without an answer key. We are all just doing the best we can.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to freshman year of college and tell myself not to waste wishes on regret. I would tell myself not to yearn to be anybody’s “one who got away.” I would tell myself that I would end up with an amazing man who never plays any games, who loves and appreciates me and tells me so every day, and that is the ultimate prize. That it doesn’t cheapen my happiness to wish the same for everyone else, including everyone who has hurt me or broken my heart. Because I have hurt people, too. No one gets out of this life with their heart unscarred.

I read somewhere once that loving someone wholeheartedly—even when your heart gets broken—just means that you have built the capacity to love wholeheartedly again. I don’t want to be “the one that got away.” I want to be the small love who was preparation for the big love that lasts, the big love that was meant to be.

My mom always says, “The best revenge is to live a happy life.” I agree. Instead of plotting ways to “get back” at someone else, put that energy into making your own life as vibrant and joyful and beautiful as it can be. Build up your own happiness, rather than wanting to tear down someone else’s happiness. Yes, the best revenge is to live a happy life… and, I would add, to genuinely wish the best for the person who hurt you.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Open your journal or a new document on your computer and use the following questions as jumping-off points for some heart-writing:

  • Write about a time someone broke your heart. How did you heal? What did you learn from that experience, painful as it might have been?
  • Write about a time you broke someone else’s heart. What did you learn from that experience?
  • Have you ever gotten exactly what you wished for?
  • Write about a time you wanted revenge or experienced regret.

why i don’t want to be “the one that got away” {part 1}

My freshman year of college, I had a huge crush on a boy who lived in my dorm. Let’s call him M. He was friendly and witty, with a crinkle-eyed smile, and talked about world issues and politics like no one I had met before. These were the days before wireless Internet and smartphones, back when you could only watch TV on actual televisions, and not everyone had TVs in their dorm rooms. The girls across the hall from me had a TV, and their room became the “hang-out spot” on our wing, and M would often come upstairs from the boys’ floor to watch sports games in the afternoons. Our dorm rooms were shoeboxes, and we kept our doors open for the illusion of more space. I’d be working on a homework assignment at my desk and I could hear his shouts and groans and cheers from across the hall. We started talking. We became friends; to my surprise, he became one of my best friends. And I quickly developed a crush on him. This was no secret to anyone in our friendship group.

Looking back, I smile at how naïve I was. I went away to college without my first kiss. Everything I knew about romance and relationships had been culled from YA books, rom coms, and the Disney channel. I whole-heartedly believed that when two people liked each other, they would start dating. Simple and easy as that. One night, when we were all piled in the room across the hall watching a movie, I was sitting next to M and he held my hand. I went to bed that night with shooting stars in my belly, certain that this meant we were now dating.

But it meant no such thing. The next day, when M sauntered into the room across the hall to watch a baseball game, his perfunctory greeting made it clear he was going to act like nothing had happened. I felt silly and embarrassed. Maybe it didn’t mean anything. This was college, after all. People probably went around holding hands all the time. I told myself to get over it; he obviously just thought of me as a friend.

Time marched on. We had long conversations about random things. We laughed about inside jokes. Every time I would feel sure that this was it, we were friends and nothing more, and I was okay with that—something would happen that would make my heart flutter anew with hope. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I marched down to his dorm room, knocked on the door, and unequivocally stated that I liked him as more than just a friend. I remember how he stared at me, his expression unreadable. “I have to think about things,” he told me. “I’ll get back to you.” Like I had invited him to a birthday party and he had to check his calendar.

But he never did get back to me. We didn’t talk about it again. The turning point came after the Handholding Incident 2.0, when he kissed me after a party and then acted like nothing had happened when I saw him the next day. I decided that I couldn’t keep doing this to myself, ballooning with hope and then breaking my own heart over and over again.

I’m done, I wrote in my diary. I’m over him, once and for all. And I compiled a list of all the reasons why we would never work.

“I’m done,” I told my friends. I remember this moment vividly—a Sunday evening in my dorm room, the streetlights blinking on outside my window, the door closed for once so no one walking by would hear our conversation. “I’m going to find a guy who actually wants to be with me and doesn’t play these stupid games. And someday, M is going to look back and regret that he treated me like this, and by then I’ll have moved on. It will be too late.” My friends braided my hair and handed me cookies they’d snuck out from the dining hall and assured me that one day he would grow up and realize how dumb he had been to let me go.

In that moment, I desperately wanted to be “the one that got away.” I wanted him to yearn for me the way I was yearning for him; to hurt the way my heart was hurting. Looking back now, it almost feels like I cast a spell that day. If my life were a novel, our narrator would step in right now and warn, Be careful what you wish for…

The rest of freshman year carried on. I forced my feelings to ebb away, and gradually they listened. I dated a few other guys. By the time we moved out of the dorms, I genuinely felt nothing more than friendship for M. It only stung a little to hear him talk about the beautiful girl he had a crush on in one of his classes; I even helped him pick out a gift to give her on the last day of class. Whenever those voices in the back of my head would pop up, sneering that he didn’t like me because I wasn’t pretty enough, cool enough, smart enough, I would look back at my diary entry and say the words like a promise: One day, he’ll look back and regret it. I’ll be “the one who got away”…

Summer waned and we returned to school for our sophomore year, excited to be living in off-campus apartments with balconies and kitchens. {By this time, I had developed an entirely new huge crush on another guy who would alternately woo and shatter my hopeful heart, but that’s a whole ’nother story.} I was so happy that I had finally let go of my pointless feelings for M, because it felt like we were legit friends now. He was the guy friend who insisted on walking me the couple blocks from his apartment to mine late at night; who came over and made me soup that time I got a really bad case of the flu; who gave me a guy’s honest opinion when I was trying to pick out an outfit for a date. He laughed at my silly stories and listened to my ideas. Now that I no longer cared about trying to make him fall in love with me, I was just myself around him. It was freeing to hang out without over-analyzing every little thing he said and did, searching for clues about his “real feelings” for me.

Then, one night, he came over and said exactly the words I had wanted to hear from him the year before…

 

This story will be continued on Friday. See you then!

what james taylor means to me

I.

I am eleven years old, dancing around the kitchen with my mom, listening to my parents’ old CDs. It is a Sunday afternoon and I am helping her make banana bread from scratch. My mom is a terrific baker, and I have inherited a love of baking from her. We have turned our giant three-CD stereo onto “shuffle” mode. There is one singer that I especially like. His voice is smooth and filled with emotion, and his lyrics sound like poetry, and the acoustic guitar makes me feel peaceful. “Who is that?” I ask my mom, as the man sings a lullaby about a sweet baby.

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

“I like his music,” I declare. Up to this point, my musical tastes have existed on a decidedly separate plane from my parents’ music. My CD collection includes Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, and N’SYNC. Now, I add James Taylor to the list.

The smell of banana bread baking in the oven mingles with the sound of James’ crooning. I come to associate his songs with the warm feelings of childhood and family and comfort. In a word: home.

II.

I am fifteen years old, on the bus to an away game with my basketball team. I always get supremely nervous before games, worried that I’m going to screw up, make a mistake, get yelled at by my coach. The entire day at school, I have been dreading this afternoon’s game. To calm myself down, I pull my portable CD player out of my backpack, slip on the headphones, and press PLAY.

James Taylor’s rich voice fills my ears, reminding me that I’ve got a friend, no matter what happens.

I don’t know anyone else at my school who likes James Taylor’s music. He feels like my own special secret. When I feel lost or self-conscious or alone, his music reminds me that this period of my life won’t last forever. Listening to his music reminds me of the wider, richer world out there beyond the confines of high school—and certainly beyond high school basketball games.

My favorite part of away basketball games is listening to his CD on the bus ride there and back home again.

{source}

III.

I am sixteen years old. James Taylor releases a new album at the same time I am going through a tough time with some friends at school. New music from him feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, many of his songs are about autumn—my favorite season. The magic of autumn is amplified by the beauty of his voice. I listen to “September Grass” and “October Road” on repeat. I imagine one day meeting a boy who loves and appreciates James Taylor as much as I do—who, in turn, recognizes my beauty and uniqueness the way none of the boys at school seem to.

Dad surprises me with tickets to see James Taylor in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I am the youngest one there by at least a decade, maybe two. But I don’t care. I feel like James is singing directly to me. He plays for more than two hours and his voice sounds even better and richer than it does on the CDs I’ve memorized by heart.

It has been one of the hardest and saddest seasons of my life up to this point, but sitting at that concert next to my dad, feeling the breeze on my face and watching my favorite musician light up the night with his beautiful music, I feel hope burgeoning inside me. I am going to be okay. I am going to move on and find new friends. Life is going to expand and keep getting better. I feel sure of it.

IV.

I am a freshman in college, and life has expanded greatly. My world has gotten wider and fuller and more exciting. I have made many new friends and every day, I am soaking up new knowledge and new experiences.

Still, sometimes I feel lonely or stressed or homesick. So much newness can be overwhelming. Whenever that happens, I click over to my James Taylor iTunes playlist. His music makes me feel like I can close my eyes and be transported back to the kitchen with my mom, baking banana bread, dancing around with my silly dog Gar—like I can be my child-self again, even for just the span of a song.

 

V.

I am in graduate school now, living halfway across the country from everything I have known. Here in Indiana, the autumn is more beautiful than any I have experienced. The reds and oranges and yellows explode from the trees, and the sky is crisp and blue. My favorite season should feel more magical than ever.

But it doesn’t. I am lonelier than I have ever been. Most people in my program are married or coupled-up, and I am the youngest one. I feel so single and so naive. As hard as I try to make friends, the close bonds I forged easily in college seem elusive here. I try throwing a party, but it is only mildly successful. The weekends stretch out interminably; the highlight is going shopping at the grocery store.

I get a lot of writing and reading done. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The weather turns grayer and colder.

I turn on the heater in my little apartment. I bake banana bread. I play James Taylor’s music and feel a teeny bit more at home, a teeny bit less alone. His songs are my touchstone.

VI.

I am twenty-six years old, living back in California. Northern California this time, the Bay Area. I am living with my grandparents and I make friends and I am not lonely. But I am still searching for a partner to share my life with. I listen to James Taylor’s songs—“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Your Smiling Face“—and I feel hopeful that I will find the person I am meant to be with. I think back to high school, when I felt like the only person my age who liked James Taylor. Now, I’ve met quite a few people from my generation who enjoy his music—Taylor Swift {who, I’ve learned, was named for James Taylor} even has a line about his records in one of her songs!

I join an online dating website. On a blustery February evening, I meet up with “Oaktown A’s Fan” at an ice cream shop. He is even more handsome in person than in his profile picture. He has kind eyes and listens to me intently, asks questions and makes me laugh. Quite suddenly, and easily, and wonderfully, we fall in love. Before long, I know that he is the one I want to spend my life with.

Allyn is a very agreeable and open person. When it comes to food or movies or music, he likes pretty much anything.

Almost anything.

“James Taylor?” he says. “I’m not a fan.”

I think at first that he’s joking—teasing me, pulling my leg. But he is completely serious. James Taylor’s music… annoys him.

“I don’t know, something about his voice gets on my nerves,” Allyn explains when I ask, in wide-mouthed astonishment, how he possibly can dislike my favorite musician of all time. “His music puts me to sleep.”

I guess nobody—not even my perfect guy—is perfect. 😉

When Allyn lets me listen to James Taylor on our road trips, I know he truly loves me.

 

VII.

Céline, one of my best friends, dies in a car accident. I never really understood “Fire and Rain” until now.

Even two and a half years later, I still can’t believe I’m not going to see her again.

VIII.

Dad flies into Oakland and we take BART together into San Francisco. James Taylor is playing a concert at AT&T Park and we bought tickets for our birthday presents to each other. I can’t think of a better way to ring in my third decade on this planet.

We spend the day wandering around the city: exploring the market at the Ferry Building, taking the trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, finding a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub for drinks. As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the concert. My whole being is filled with anticipation.

The stadium is packed, yet somehow his music makes it feel intimate. He tells stories between the songs and plays video footage of his adorable dog. He plays many of his old classics, and some of his new songs, including my favorite off his latest album: “Montana.” Tears come to my eyes when he plays “Fire and Rain.” He saves my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” for the encore.

After the concert, walking back to our hotel, Dad and I are still reveling in the joy and grace of James Taylor’s music. I think about the last time I saw James Taylor play, when I was sixteen. How much has changed since then. And also how much has remained the same.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” — James Taylor, “Secret O’Life

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • Who is a musician that has impacted your life? How so?
  • Turn on one of your favorite albums. Write about various memories each song brings up.
  • What is the last concert you went to? Write about the experience.
  • What musicians or songs have been a comfort to you during hard times?